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       Emblaze, p.15

           Jessica Shirvington
 

  Dapper moved forwards on his chair and pulled out a pair spectacles. I was fascinated by how different they made him look. Dapper is a nightclub owner, not exactly slender and his mannerisms are not delicate in any way. But with those diamante-studded frames I was quite sure this was a side to Dapper he showed very rarely indeed.

  „Right, Here"s what we can decipher. Phoenix is the admirer with the terrible desire.

  There is no real hidden meaning in that. The Obolus is traditionally a silver coin that used to be placed on the eyes of the dead as payment to the ferryman for passage to the next world or afterlife. Phoenix will have to make a payment, probably silver, and „red" I would assume is a blood-offering.

  The explanation closely followed Dad"s.

  „Whose blood?" Spence called out.

  „We"re not sure. Griffin believes it will be Phoenix"s own, but it could be another"s. Once the payment is made, the one who is beckoned …" he raised his eyes to the table, „Lilith, in this case, will be released from Tartarus."

  „Which is Hell?" Spence called out again.

  „Yes," Griffin said, shooting him a "shut up" look.

  Dapper studied the paper some more and pointed to it. "Then we have the verse above.

  This is about sacrifice."

  I thought back to Dad"s words. He really knew how to break down a poem.

  „Six must be killed to bring her back. And this is where it gets difficult, but I believe three of a like kind, therefore exiles, must be returned in water and another three in fire, and …"

  he looked down and then back up, as if mustering bravery. „I cannot see a way for any of this to come to fruition if it is not at the hand of Grigori."

  Everyone bar Onyx looked stunned. Even Griffin, who I was sure had already heard this theory or even suggested it, was silent.

  It was Steph who cleared her throat meekly and started to speak. „Exiles can kill other exiles but the only guaranteed return of an exile that could count as an offering to Tartarus must be made by a Grigori blade."

  „Well, no Grigori is about to let that happen," Spence said.

  But I never thought I would hand over the Exile Scripture to Phoenix.

  Not until I did.

  Griffin stood up. „There is still a lot that is unclear but we do have some time. Thanks to Stephanie, we have a translation that Phoenix would not have been able to interpret yet.

  And thanks to Onyx," he glanced towards him and then quickly to me, „we have a location."

  „You know where Kalliste is?" I asked, looking at Onyx. Was that what he"d wanted to talk to me about today?

  Onyx took a gulp of his „coffee", barely acknowledging my question.

  „I want to come with you. I"ll give you my knowledge and," he looked at Griffin then me, smugly, „my word that I will share it only with you. Unless, of course, it is physically beaten out of me, in which case I will tell whoever has the fastest fist." He sat back, typical Onyx, smiling and waiting for us to give in to his demands.

  „Why would you want to come with us?" Lincoln asked.

  „I have my reasons. They are unrelated and do no concern you."

  „Tell us about the location," Griffin said. Whatever Griffin had read in Onyx"s request obviously hadn"t worried him too much. Lincoln looked like he wanted to protect but Griffin shut him down. „We have no other choice. We need that location."

  Onyx gloated, leaning back and slinging an arm over the back of his chair, but I didn"t miss the moment of relief he hadn"t been able to hide. He moved into a dramatic presentation, relaxing his shoulders and stalling. I could tell he particularly enjoyed that he"d ruffled the usually impenetrable Lincoln. Onyx was one of the only people who seemed to irritate Lincoln. History does that.

  „The first part of the poem almost told me, alone. There have been many stories over the years about … gateways. “What was once of Atlas and also Kalliste.” It was Plato who was one of the only humans to work it out. A city that was so great it would"ve conquered the world. It was well before my time on Earth, though I watched it from a different point of view.

  Maybe 10,000 BC. Of course, it is long gone now, somewhere at the bottom of the ocean perhaps, and what is left behind, a mere gravestone. An island that once held the name Kalliste - the most beautiful. What remains of it surrounds an opening to Hell, always waiting, never truly sleeping."

  „Where?" Griffin asked evenly.

  „It appears we will be taking a journey to the Cyclades Islands."

  „Greece?" Steph asked. She paused, as if visualising a map, which she probably was, before her head shot up. „Santorini! The most southern island. That"s where the gateway is."

  And then, as if another thought side-swiped her, she blinked and paled. „Thera …" she breathed.

  I looked around the table and a few other faces started to blanch, too.

  „What?" I responded. „What does that mean?"

  Griffin swallowed. „The island of Santorini used to be known as Thera as well. It was an entire civilisation built on top of an island, which was also … a volcano. In around 1650 BC

  it erupted."

  „Closer to 1630BC," Onyx corrected. I had a feeling he"d been around for that one.

  „The blast was so enormous a great deal of the island sunk into the ocean and what is left now is just the outer rim. Some people believe it caused the destruction of the entire Minoan civilisation on the neighbouring island of Crete. And some," he looked at Onyx,

  „believe that Thera was the home of the lost city of Atlantis."

  „So the volcano sank?" Spence asked.

  Lincoln stood up and moved away from the table as if he needed to do something. He stopped near the bar, still within hearing distance but facing away.

  „Yes, it did," Onyx said, "but Hell does not stay down for long - it has been rising out of the water ever since. And that volcano is very much alive."

  „How did the volcano destroy people on another island?" Becca asked. "Even a huge blast couldn"t send lava that distance."

  „Tsunami," Steph said. Just one terrifying word.

  „Can"t fight that," Becca said, slumping back down.

  „Yeah, „cause a volcano on its own was going to be a piece of cake," Spence said.

  I pulled out the first poem that Steph had translated. „”Ash will fall as fire will rain.” They"re going to make the volcano erupt, aren"t they? The volcano is the gate."

  No one answered. No one needed to. Even Onyx was silent.

  Dapper started cleaning, clearing away plates and cups. It was what he did when things were bad. The rest of us just sat there, in shock.

  Lincoln eventually rejoined the table. „When do we leave?"

  Griffin took a moment to respond, deep in thought. „Tonight."

  I looked over at Steph.

  She raised her eyebrows. „Don"t even! I"m coming this time." She folded her arms.

  „It"s too dangerous."

  „I"m sorry, Violet, but Stephanie is a part of this fight now. She has proved her value and there are still parts of the Scripture to be translated. There are some symbols she might be able to help decipher. If she is willing, and agrees to stay clear of the line of fire and follow instructions, she will be coming."

  „What about school?" I asked, wishing once again I had never brought her into this world.

  How could Griffin do this? She had already been kidnapped once.

  „We both know I can afford some time off school. And anyway, Vi, this is bigger than that stuff. It"s not only important to you to stop him."

  She was right, but …"I can"t defend you."

  „I never asked you to and anyway, I have no intention of putting myself on the front line.

  How about you just do your thing and let me do mine?"

  I could see nothing I said would change anything and I could see Griffin had no intention of letting me make her stay behind.

  „I"ll go, too. We"ll work on the Scripture together and sta
y out of the fight," dapper said, taking off his glasses. His eyes locked with mine and he gave me the smallest nod, a promise. He would keep her safe. I nodded back - I"d hold him to it.

  „9 p.m. at the airport. Beth and Archer will stay behind and run the city," Griffin continued.

  They both nodded.

  „The rest of you are expected on that plane. It will be chartered so bring your passports,"

  Griffin said, putting his files away and digging into his bag.

  I was about to speak up, explain I didn"t even have a passport - I hadn"t needed one for Jordan since we"d been smuggled in - when he pulled out something of his bag and slid it across the table till it stopped in front of me.

  I picked it up - a passport and other forms of identification, including a key card.

  „Is this stuff legit?" I asked, looking at a picture of me I didn"t even remember having had taken.

  „Yes," he smiled. „And no. it"s standard documentation for all Grigori. We have it so we cannot be traced by government authorities. No one can ever track you if you are using these documents. Don"t bring anything other than these and you"ll be fine."

  „The key card?" I questioned, flashing Steph a quick smile.

  „For emergencies," he said, giving me a -don"t-even-think-about-it look much better than anything Dad had ever delivered.

  I slipped it all in my backpack just as Onyx cleared his throat.

  „Yes, Onyx. I"ll have documentation for you at the airport," Griffin said.

  Onyx smiled broadly.

  „9 p.m., people, „Griffin repeated before gesturing to Beth and Archer to follow him. There would be a lot they would have to go over before Griffin left the city in their hands.

  Onyx slipped out of his seat and headed straight for the bar. „Keys!" he called out, when he stopped in front of the pull-down cage encasing all of the alcohol.

  „Forget it," Dapper said, now wiping down the table.

  „Oh, Dapper, really? Tell me you wouldn"t like a large glass of something mind-numbing after discovering that Hell is about to play peekaboo via the most destructive volcano on the planet?"

  Dapper kept wiping the table.

  „Keys!" Onyx bellowed.

  Sighing, Dapper tossed them through the air. Onyx caught them in one and had the cage open in moments.

  Steph got up and started towards the door.

  „Where are you going?" I asked, standing too.

  „School. I"ll get there for the last couple of classes, pick up the work for the next week or two, just in case, and tell them I"m going on one of Dad"s business trips. I"ll get your work, too - unless, of course, you want to come with me."

  I shrugged.

  „Didn"t think so."

  She hugged me tighter than usual. „I"ll be outside your place at eight in a taxi."

  I wanted to argue, to try and convince her to stay, but it was useless. „Okay," I sighed.

  She squeezed me one more time and then took off via Spence. Whatever she said to him made him fall into hystericals.

  Must have offered to get his schoolwork, too.

  I was vaguely aware of people starting to file out but I sat back down at the table. I couldn"t move yet.

  How can Phoenix do this?

  I"d seen a side to him which I was sure could never be capable of what he was now doing.

  Is there any part of him that feels anything any more? Maybe if I try to speak to him, find a way to reach him …

  „Whatever you"re thinking, stop."

  I jolted from my mind-spiral and looked up. Lincoln was standing on the opposite side of the table. From the look on his face he"d been watching me for a while and I"d been so lost in thought I hadn"t even felt him move closer.

  „This is all because of me. If I hadn"t become involved with him in the first place … This is all because I couldn"t love him."

  Something painful rippled over Lincoln"s face and his hands fisted as if needed to restrain them. As if he wanted to reach out to me. I felt the surge of his power, the flow of honey lifted from him and enveloped me.

  Why is he using his power around me?

  „The best think we can do is stop him, but Vi … I think you should consider not coming."

  „Are you deficient? You think I"m going to let everyone else go there, even Steph, to fight the battle that"s my fault?"

  I shook my head in disbelief. Even knowing what was ahead - that I would have to deal with Dad first - not going was absolutely not an option.

  „If you think that"s ever going to happen - you don"t know me at all."

  „I don"t think it"s going to happen. But I do think you should consider it."

  I stood up and laid my hands flat on the table to deliver him a fierce stare. „Well, it"s been considered."

  I grabbed my bag and stormed out before Lincoln had a chance to say another word.

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

  „Two qualities are indispensable; first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow this faint light wherever it may lead."

  Karl Von Clausewitz

  It was a bleak, drizzly day and the sun didn"t seem to be offering any help. I shoved my hands into my coat pockets as I started to walk away. I didn"t want to stop, just in case Lincoln decided to follow me. It was getting harder all the time. Just being around him caused reactions I couldn"t control. From the moment I"d sat down in Hades this inside out and it had burned like dry ice. Now that I was away from him - all I felt was the lonely, trembling chill left behind.

  I pulled my coat tightly around my waist and tugged on my beanie. I was so caught up in wondering how we were going to survive this trip - both the battle and the nearness - that I didn"t notice Onyx until I was almost on top of him.

  I stopped in my tracks. He didn"t activate my senses in the same way as other exiles, or cause the familiar buzz I felt when other Grigori were nearby. He felt like a memory, invoking the instinct to look over my shoulder - but more.

  „What do you want?"

  He pulled out from the shadows of the back doorway to Hades.

  „My, my, we"re touchy. I told you we needed to talk."

  „What, now?"

  „Santorini is a small island - not like the city. It"s not like anywhere else."

  „What does that mean?"

  He shrugged. „You"ll soon find out."

  „Forget it. I"m not interested in playing your games," I said, starting to walk away, still feeling empty and cold.

  „You have to decide!" he called after me.

  I stopped and turned back to him. The look on his face was almost genuine.

  „The only person who will ever get close enough to him to make a strike is you. Lincoln has the capability but we both know he will always hesitate …" His confident look morphed into one of fear. „She is … trust me, Lilith is the epitome of evil. She will annihilate everything and everyone in her path. She was always demented, but after the time she has been … Where she"s been … she will have no intention other than destruction."

  „As opposed to you!" I sniped.

  „Oh, believe me, Rainbow - I had vision, right or wrong. But anything I have ever done will be a mere breeze in comparison to the hurricane she will unleash."

  My breath was smoky in the cold as it left my shaking body. „What are you saying?"

  „She will be impossible to stop, possibly immune to our blades. The only chance we have is to kill Phoenix before he opens the gates and you"re the only one who can do it."

  Once again - great to be special.

  „Why are you telling me this?" I snapped.

  „Because … no one else is going to."

  I bit my lip, absorbing his words, which seemed to provoke a small smile, or maybe it was a grimace, from him. He turned and walked into Hades, locking the door behind him.

  I don"t know how long I stood there, but it was long enough for the coldness in my body
to turn to numbness.

  It wasn"t like I hadn"t thought it myself - when Phoenix had taken Steph I had to accept it might be my only option. But Onyx and his new-found need for self-preservation was the first to say it aloud and somehow that made it different, more real.

  The truth was - I didn"t want to die.

  But that doesn"t mean I won"t.

  No wonder Lincoln wanted me to stay behind.

  -

  I sat on the couch where I had been waiting for the last two hours. I"d expected Dad home right after school hours and thought we"d have time. But Steph was due to be outside in less than half an hour and I was still waiting. I had no idea how we were going to get through this conversation. There would be no elaborate manipulation this time, there was no way to make this easier. I couldn"t just lie.

  My duffle bag was packed and by the door, my backpack beside me on the couch. I flipped through its contents once again. I"d done as Griffin had instructed and replaced all of my forms of identification with the ones he had given me. My wallet was now filled with a membership to a library I didn"t recognise, a new student card, driver"s licence and passport

  - all of which identified me as Violet Eden, aged twenty-one.

  When I tried I could pass for nineteen, maybe twenty, but twenty-one was a push. I guess the Academy figured such precautions would make things easier for everyone.

  I pulled out my mother"s wooden box and tried to ignore the wave of senses that always overcame me when I touched it. I opened the now-familiar letter she had written to me seventeen years ago and wondered if I would ever be able to think of her without resentment.

  Unlikely.

  I picked up her wristband and felt the senses build within me like an orchestra before I dropped it again. No one knew what had happened to the other one but I could tell Rudyard had had suspicions before he"d … I didn"t like touching the leather, it always felt wrong.

  Twister. Like it was generating some kind of energy of its own, even now, all these years after she"d died.

  The door clicked open and Dad walked in. finally. He was saying goodbye to someone on his phone. From the smile in his tone, I was willing to bet it was Caroline.

  I wondered if it was planned or just fortuitous that he had her now that it looked like he might lose me. Not that he knew yet. I scrunched my hand, digging my nails into my palm to stop myself from thinking about it. The idea of angels, both light and dark, messing with my Dad was more than upsetting.

 
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